John Stephen Willison.

Reminiscences, political and personal online

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qualities, and Goldwin Smith often sought his advice
and co-operation. It is doubtful if any clearer or
stronger writer on economic subjects ever appeared in
Canadian journalism. He was always lucid and deci-
sive. There was no "oratory" in his writing, and yet at
times it was singularly sympathetic and elegant. He
knew many men and he was interested in many subjects.
He could fight the Roman Catholic hierarchy and yet
have friendly relations with Roman Catholic
ecclesiastics. He could be an active advocate of the
platform of one party and be intimate with leaders
in the other party. Few men knew so much of the
undercurrents in Canadian politics. Few men received
so many confidences or more scrupulously kept the con-
fidences with which they were entrusted. He came to
The Globe from The Mail; from the Conservative
party to the Liberal party. He brought with him no
secrets that could help the one or discredit the other.
If he had any such secrets they were not disclosed. It
is perhaps doubtful if he had much sympathy with any
political party. He was often contemptuous of the
issues which divided politicians. For years he was the
chief editorial writer of The Mail, and at no time was
that newspaper more powerful. For two years he was
chief editorial writer of The Globe and there, as on The
Mail, he was influential. It was inevitable that he
should determine the character and temper of any page
to which he contributed. He could not occupy a sub-
ordinate relation. Whether it was admitted or not he



was at the head of the table. This was not because he
strove to be first, but because his knowledge was so wide
and his experience so great that his authority was the
natural result.

It was during his connection with The Globe that
his celebrated pamphlet, practically advocating poli-
tical union with the United States, was stolen from a
printing office and extracts from the book read at a
great meeting in Toronto, at which the chief speakers
were Sir John Macdonald and Sir Charles Tupper.
Although we were together on The Globe, I had no
knowledge of the pamphlet until the day on which the
meeting was held. When I was told by a friendly Con-
servative journalist that it would be produced, and
that an attack upon The Globe office was contemplated.
I did not believe that any assault upon The Globe was
intended and I opposed firmly but unavailingly a pro-
posal to have the office guarded by police. It was so
guarded, but there was no attack. One thought at the
back of my mind was that an assault upon the office
would give a grievance as an offset to the sensation
which publication of the pamphlet was bound to create.
How much it may have had to do with the defeat of the
Liberal party in 1891 cannot be determined. It is hard
to think that Sir John Macdonald could have been de-
feated in any event. But free use of the pamphlet was
made by the Conservative press and Conservative speak-
ers all over the country, and naturally it was thought
that the thing did damage. Mr. Farrer rightly enough
took full responsibility for what he had written.
He never seemed much worried or distressed by
its publication. I never heard him express any regret
for writing it. The Liberal leaders knew nothing of



the pamphlet until it was produced at the Toronto meet-
ing. Even Sir Richard Cartwright was unaware of its

Mr. Farrer often talked of his experiences as an
immigration agent in Ireland, and on no subject was he
more entertaining. But he was entertaining on all sub-
jects. He had an amazing collection of stories. He
saw humour in any and every situation. He was bril-
liant in conversation and he loved to talk. He was fond
of sport. Before the time of baseball he was often seen
at cricket matches. In later years, while he lived in
Toronto, he was a devotee of the diamond. He could
write on pugilism with as much authority as he wrote
on finance, and he could describe with singular accur-
acy all the great encounters between the heroes of the
ring for generations. He would talk for hours of great
historical trials for murder with exact knowledge of the
evidence and the pieces of testimony which brought con-
viction or acquittal. I never saw him more utterly ab-
sorbed than in the trial of Birchall at Woodstock, and
from the first he saw that the letter to Colonel Benwell
was fatal. For some time he was in Winnipeg, where
he was connected with The Sun and The Times, and to
both of these papers he gave distinction. It is believed
that Mr. Farrer was brought back from Winnipeg to
The Mail chiefly upon the advice of Mr. D'Alton Mc-
Carthy. Mr. C. W. Bunting, according to Mr. Mc-
Carthy's story, had asked Farrer to return, but Farrer
declared that he was not willing to be a professional
"sandbagger." "That," said Mr. McCarthy, "is an
additional reason why the offer should be renewed. A
man who will not stoop to party savagery is the man
who will best serve the paper and the party." Mr.



Bunting gave Fairer satisfactory assurances that he
would not be required to sandbag, tomahawk, or scalp,
and he returned to Toronto. No journal to which Mr.
Farrer contributed could be dull or commonplace. He
was bold at times, and now and again greatly disturbed
his political associates. One thinks of quotations from
his pen which did service in various campaigns, and not
always in behalf of the party with which he was allied.
Such utterances, however, were generally in denuncia-
tion of abuses and were not dictated by any mere desire
to create annoyance or friction. Behind the scenes he
did much. He moved many men who perhaps hardly
understood the influences to which they responded. He
had perhaps more personal acquaintances than any
other man in Canada, and more friends also. No one
who ever worked at his side could forget his humour
and his genius for comradeship, or ever cease to won-
der at the ease with which he did his work, his fami-
liarity with many books, his knowledge of the affairs
of many countries, his prodigious memory and the
numerous and varied channels through which he col-
lected information on the subjects in which he was inter-

Of his early career I learned nothing. He told me
once that even his wife knew nothing of his antecedents
or of his history before he came to Canada. I was told
by the physician who attended him during a serious
illness at Winnipeg that when his life was in danger he
tried, at Mrs. Farrer's request, to discover where her
husband had spent his boyhood and what were his con-
nections and pursuits before he came to Canada. The
first question he put when the patient had a lucid
moment was whether or not the family to which he be-



longed was distinguished for longevity. But with death
at the door Fairer was himself. He assured the physi-
cian wearily but whimsically that generally his rela-
tions died shortly after the court rose, but occasionally
one was fortunate enough to pull through until the next
assizes. I can get no trace of Mr. Farrer before 1870.
In the spring of that year he offered The Lindsay Ex-
positor a series of sketches of leaders in the British
House of Commons. The second or third article was
criticized by a correspondent, and Farrer told Mr.
Peter Murray, publisher of The Expositor, that he had
no wish to engage in controversy and discontinued the
contributions. It is understood that he had spent the
previous winter as bookkeeper in a lumber shanty.
When the season's work was over he had come to Lind-
say. For a time, too, and possibly before his connection
with The Expositor he wrote for The Oshawa Vindi-
cator. Later he joined the staff of The Daily Telegraph,
and when The Mail was established became one of its
writers. During his connection with The Globe he was
continuously and bitterly attacked by the Conservative
newspapers. But his serenity was seldom disturbed and
he never wrote a word in his own defence. There was
a certain lawyer in Toronto who was often unfit to
appear for his clients, and Mr. Farrer protested that
this man was his counsel and that he would deal with
his accusers as soon as the lawyer got sober. Once Mr.
Erastus Wiman came to The Globe office with the
manuscript of a speech in favour of Reciprocity with
the United States that he was anxious to deliver in
Canada. He read the speech to Mr. Jaffray, Mr. Far-
rer and myself, but our unanimous judgment was that
he had spoken too often on the subject and that speeches



in Canada by residents of the United States in favour
of commercial union between the two countries were
politically mischievous and damaging to the Liberal
party. Wiman was so angry that he left the room with-
out a word of farewell. We sat for some moments in a
sober silence, which was finally broken by Mr. Farrer,
who declared that Wiman would read the speech to the
coloured porter on the Pullman between Hamilton and
Buffalo and have Mr. H. P. Dwight, superintendent of
the Great North-Western Telegraph Company, send
it out for publication. When Mr. Farrer was short of
money, as he was sometimes, and wanted to borrow, he
used to tell me that he had some beautifully litho-
graphed stock in a mine called "The Gates Ajar,"
which he would put up as security. He often declared
that he was the last of the Baldwin Reformers, but had
been absorbed by the Patrons of Industry and was not
exactly certain that the absorption had not impaired his
political consistency. Once when he was telling me
about an Englishman he had met at Montreal he
paused to remark, "You ought to see his wife; she has
enough powder on her face to free Ireland." He de-
clared that when he was in Winnipeg Van Home
brought an expert from Chicago to report on the pros-
pect of hog raising in Manitoba, who found that if each
hog could be furnished with a parlour stove and a buf-
falo overcoat success would be assured. He called me
aside at Goldwin Smith's funeral to ask if I had heard
that the Liberal platform of 1893 was a Tory forgery.
He said of a mutual friend who had grown wealthy and
did not conceal his opulence, that he could not give a
quarter to a porter without taking $400 in bills out of
his pocket.



Whimsical, happy, alert, companionable, unpre-
tentious, scholarly, simple, profound, mysterious, and
elusive, I have known no more remarkable man than
Edward Fairer nor any of greater gifts or greater
knowledge. Once Mr. Goldwin Smith asked me if I
thought Mr. Farrer ever had a sincere conviction. I
suggested that at least he was sincere in his desire to
annex Canada to the United States. He said, "Oh, no,
if Mr. Farrer could get Canada into the United States
to-morrow he would start next day to get her out." His
own opinion was that Mr. Farrer was sincere only in
his dislike and distrust of the Roman Catholic hier-
archy. I could not agree for I think he had a liking
for the cultivated priesthood of the Church, however
hostile he may have been to the tenets of ultramontan-
ism and the absolutism of Roman Catholic teaching.
But although he was nominally a Catholic when he
came to die, he did not seek the consolation of the
Church. A strange and great man he was who found
much zest in life, but I think was often lonely. There
was no window through which we could look into his
soul. There was reticence which we could not pene-
trate ; there was mystery that we could not fathom. It
is said that he was educated in a Jesuit college, but I do
not know. That he was a scholar was manifest. He
had French and the old languages. But he walked in
strange ways and it is literally true that his left hand
did not always know what his right hand was doing. He
had the quality of a detective and that talent was exer-
cised for various and curious causes. I had knowledge
that I do not disclose and confidences which cannot be
betrayed. In his outlook for Canada he was an incur-
able, mischievous, dangerous pessimist. For the British



Empire he cared not at all. The story of his life would
reveal remarkable connections and far-reaching influ-
ences. But no one can tell the story from the frag-
mentary material that remains.

When I became editor of The Globe it was the
fashion to ignore or give little attention to Conservative
meetings. The Liberal leaders always had crowded
houses. Their speeches excited tremendous enthusiasm,
At Conservative meetings there were empty benches
and perfunctory attention. I have known The Globe
to give eight or ten columns to a Liberal meeting at the
old Pavilion and less than a column to a Conservative
meeting at least as well attended and addressed by
speakers of equal attraction and distinction. Moreover,
there was often deliberate misrepresentation of Con-
servative speeches or calculated suppression of passages
which were regarded as damaging to the Liberal posi-
tion. I recall that two members of The Globe staff de-
tailed to trail Sir John Macdonald from house to house
and from place to place during one of his visits to
Toronto refused to take the assignment. It is to the
honour of Mr. Cameron that he respected their
scruples. They were not required to resign nor affected
in body or estate. From the first I resolved that reports
should be accurate and that Conservative readers of
The Globe should not require to go elsewhere for
the speeches of their leaders. I recognized that
it would not be judicious to discover as much enthusiasm
at Conservative as at Liberal meetings, but I determined
that there should be no deliberate misquotation or mis-
representation. The staff, and no better staff than that
which I had on The Globe ever served a Canadian
newspaper, gave loyal and even eager support to the



policy to which I sought to give effect. But from cer-
tain of the directors there was often angry criticism and
severe disapproval. Extreme Liberal partisans were
bitter and contemptuous. I had to read many a savage
letter and endure much misunderstanding with such
equanimity as I could command. It was a long and
hard battle, but I never wavered or retreated. In time
the commercial and political wisdom of fair and full
reports of public meetings was established and those
who had blasphemed came to believe that they were
responsible for the revolution. For in the columns of
The Globe a revolution was effected and the example
was influential with other public journals. After the
general election of 1896 Sir Charles Tupper declared
that The Globe had reported his speeches more fairly
and more fully than any other newspaper, and other
Conservative leaders supported his testimony. Not
only has The Globe been faithful to the tradition which
was established nearly thirty years ago, but few Cana-
dian newspapers now tolerate the practices which were
so common when Macdonald and Blake, Mowat and
Meredith, contended for political supremacy. That, I
believe, was my best contribution to Canadian journal-
ism. I think my contemporaries will agree that I was
influential in establishing the better fashion and yet not
feeble or uncertain in the editorial columns in defence
of the Liberal party or in attack upon the methods and
policies of its opponents. For I never tried to persuade
myself that The Globe was not the organ of the Liberal
party or that its independence was not affected by its
political connections.

In the third issue of The Globe which appeared
under my editorship there are four articles which be-



tray uneasiness over the situation in Quebec. I wrote
all four with the deliberate object of dissociating The
Globe from the extreme nationalism, or rather the
extreme provincialism of Mercier, and in apprehension
of disclosures of methods and practices in the govern-
ment of the Province which would incidentally but in-
evitably affect Laurier and the Federal Liberal party.
When through the investigation in the Senate corrup-
tion was exposed in Quebec at least as bold and system-
atic as was revealed during the "scandal session" at
Ottawa, I could not be persuaded that The Globe
should turn from denunciation of rascality under a
Conservative Government to defence of rascality under
a Liberal Government. But powerful influences in the
Liberal party were outraged by my candour and
treason. Early one morning a colleague on The Globe
came to my house with the report that I was to be "re-
moved from office." On the same day Mr. John Cam-
eron came down from London with the suggestion that
I should resign, as dismissal was certain if I did not
forestall the fiat by immediate resignation. Both acted
in complete good faith. Neither was in sympathy with
the demand for my decapitation. Mr. Cameron argued
that dismissal would affect all my future and that recov-
ery would be less difficult if I evaded the stroke by a
strategic withdrawal. My colleague insisted that if I
were dismissed he would resign, since he had written
many of the articles for which I was to suffer. I did all
that I could to dissuade him from any such rash action,
but he was inflexible and certainly would have gone
out if I had been disturbed. But I told Mr. Cameron,
as I told my loyal colleague, that I did not believe I
was in danger, that whether I was or was not, nothing



was more certain than that I would not resign, and that
if my resignation was required there would have to be
a public disclosure of the motives and reasons behind
the demand. I was confident, however, that there was
no cause for alarm for The Globe was steadily improv-
ing its position and my relations with Mr. JafFray and
the directors were singularly happy and satisfactory. I
said nothing to Mr. Jaffray or to any other of the direc-
tors, nor did I receive any information from any other
quarter to support the conviction of Mr. Cameron and
my associate in the office that resignation or dismissal
had been decreed. Two years later Mr. Jaffray told
me that a group of Liberal politicians, through Sir
Richard Cartwright, had demanded my dismissal on
account of my unsympathetic attitude towards the Mer-
cier Government and inconsiderate denunciation of
evil political conditions in Quebec. He added that the
Board rejected the demand without a moment's con-
sideration and that every precaution was taken to keep
the incident from my knowledge. I did not discover,
nor have I ever sought to discover, who beyond Sir
Richard Cartwright were concerned in the movement.
Two or three years later there was a formidable
intrigue within the Liberal party to exclude Sir Rich-
ard from Parliament. There was a common conviction
that he had so alienated the industrial and business in-
terests that the party could not hope to succeed
in the constituencies while he was active and influ-
ential in its councils. It was designed, therefore,
to deprive Cartwright of the Liberal nomination for
South Oxford and to prevent his nomination elsewhere.
As editor of The Globe I was asked to join in this move-
ment. When I declined peremptorily and emphatic-



ally to assist, or even to maintain silence if there was any
serious prospect that Cartwright would not be re-nom-
inated I was reminded of the fact, of which it was
thought I was ignorant, that he had sought to have me
dismissed from my position and could, therefore, have
no possible claim upon my consideration or gratitude.
My answer was that Sir Richard's attitude towards the
editor of The Globe did not enter into the question. I
urged that for a generation he had fought the battle of
the Liberal party, often unwisely as I believed, but with
self-sacrifice and devotion, and that to take his service
in the day of his strength and dishonour him in his
old age would be for him a mortal humiliation and for
the party a shame and a disgrace. A few days before
the convention in South Oxford, which he carried by a
narrow majority, I made an earnest appeal in The
Globe for his renomination which may not have been
wholly without effect. Those who sought to unhorse
Sir Richard shared his opinions but were embarrassed
by his inveterate prejudices and violence of language.
They believed that the party was more than the in-
dividual and that he was an obstacle to party success.
Nor is it true that the manufacturers were behind the
movement against Sir Richard. It may be that certain
Liberal politicians were cultivating the protectionists,
but if there was any reciprocal action it never came to
my knowledge. There never was a quarrel that was
more strictly domestic and it is not ungenerous to sug-
gest that Conservatives were not eager to have Sir
Richard dethroned. I once sat behind a group of Con-
servative members of the Commons in a railway car-
riage when Parliament was convulsed by the scandals
of 1891 and was startled by the fierce energy of their



common declaration that no matter what might be
revealed they would never cast a vote to put Sir Richard
Cartwright in office. Yet as I have said he mellowed
in office and was more favourable to the protectionists
than Fielding. I do not think he ever knew that I had
knowledge of his attempt to drive me out of The Globe
office, nor have I ever believed that Sir Wilfrid Laurier
gave his consent to the demand for my dismissal. Sir
Richard was grateful for The Globe's intervention in
South Oxford and until his death he treated me with
much consideration. As one goes on his journey short
at best chances for revenge intrude, but to take revenge
is to sour life to the core and make all the world

As editor of The Globe I persisted for months and
even for years in the agitation for a Federal Railway
Commission. A Cabinet opposed finally yielded and
the Commission was established. I was not the pioneer
in the movement, and other forces were active and
powerful. In the final decision no one was more influ-
ential than Dr. Rutherford, who has just been appointed
to the Commission. I advocated reform of the Senate
and reform of the civil service, but the last came slowly
and the first not at all. When the Liberal party came
into office in 1896 The Globe protested so strenuously
against dismissal of Conservative office-holders save for
active, offensive interference in elections that I was
honoured by a vote of censure from the Young Men's
Liberal Club of Toronto. When the Conservative
party was restored to office in 1911 I protested as
strongly against interference with Liberal officials.
Returning from the Democratic Convention at Chicago
in 1892 which nominated Cleveland, I began an agita-



tion for a national convention of the Liberal party.
There was protest and resistance from the official lead-
ers of the party, but the agitation prevailed. If the
platform which the Convention adopted was more
honoured in the breach than in the observance nothing
ever more greatly stimulated the national spirit of the
Liberal party. Moreover, the party, greatly divided
over the issue of Unrestricted Reciprocity with the
United States, compromised its differences, and whether
the country understood or not, declared against fiscal
discrimination against Great Britain.

Convinced by my visit to the Western Provinces in
1895 that the agitation for the abolition of the North-
west Mounted Police was fatuous and the attitude of
the Liberal party towards the Canadian Pacific Rail-
way unwise and unnational, I modified The Globe's
position and bore with such fortitude as I could the
common insinuation that I was purchased by Van
Home and overcome by Police hospitality. The Globe
had many articles in favour of law reform. In this
agitation one of my confidential advisers was Chief
Justice Armour. Before I met him letters were ex-
changed in a correspondence which he began. One day
a huge man, in a rough gray suit, with a wide soft hat
came into the office and without a word of greeting
dropped heavily into a chair, brought a big stick down
on the floor with unnecessary emphasis, turned keen,
searching eyes upon me and rumbled, "Do you know
who I am?" I guessed that he was Chief Justice Arm-
our. "I am," he declared, "and I just wanted to look at

the d fool who thinks he can get law reform from


Mr. John Ewan came down from the head of the



lakes with a story about Mr. James Conmee. It
was said that Conmee had a long and irreconcilable
feud with a man at Port Arthur and that when he be-

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Online LibraryJohn Stephen WillisonReminiscences, political and personal → online text (page 15 of 25)